JUST as University halls of residence are given a fresh lick of paint in the downtime of the summer holidays, so the Dry Dock closed for ten days at the end of May, taking the chance to pause for breath between the mad rush of exam week and the wild celebrations of graduation.
Student-wise it’s in Position A, directly opposite the main entrance to Leeds Met’s Woodhouse Lane campus, and half way between Leeds University and the city centre. That it is also the last port of call on the infamous Otley Run makes this the most studenty pub in town.
The refurbishment has nudged the place gently upmarket, though one might easily wonder what’s the point, when it takes such persistent hammer from the relentless footfall of noisy, raucous undergraduates.
And though the sight of a big canal barge beached in the middle of a traffic island has lost its impact on those who pass it every day, it must be something of an arresting sight for the intake of new students, every autumn. That it also benefits from cheap and cheerful grub, a pool table, late opening and a great outdoor drinking area, makes the Dry Dock an absolute magnet for the under-25s.
The barge itself is just a half of the structure, its starboard side having been cut away to open onto a long, low-ceilinged bar area, as though it had simply moored up alongside a conveniently-placed pub.
Around the walls are pictures of celebrities with Leeds connections, and at one end there is the slight feel of a VIP area, where a curve of stools and high leather sofas are clustered around a big plasma screen HDTV which is often tuned to Sky Sports or ESPN. “We’ll show whatever sport is on,” manager Tom Webster explained. “We’re open to suggestions, if anyone has a liking for a particular sport, we’re happy to show it.” The arrival of two further flat screen TVs for the beer garden will add to the Dry Dock’s appeal to sports fans.
Though the refurbishment was perfectly timed with the end of the academic year, Tom is keen to emphasise that The Dry Dock is for everyone. “When I came here last year, it was really just a student pub. We’ve tried to encourage people who work in the city, who maybe like to have a drink after work, and who like a lively atmosphere, to come along. It’s for students and non-students alike.
Along with that has come a renewed commitment to real ale. And though Black Sheep, Bombardier and Timothy Taylor Landlord are not the most adventurous handpull selections, they do provide a significant alternative to the array of lager fonts on the bar. A big shout for the Tennent’s Pilsner, by the way, which at £1.10 a pint, all day, every day, represents serious good value.
The refit was funded by the Stonegate Pub Company which operates more than 300 pubs and bars across the UK including a number of high street pubs, traditional country inns, local community pubs and student pubs.
The Dry Dock retains the It’s A Scream! branding that it shares with the Library, a half mile up Woodhouse Lane. People screaming in pubs is a good thing, apparently.
The menu reflects The Dry Dock’s status as Student Central, offering no-nonsense, good value, chips-with-almost-everything meals to keep the diners loaded up with carbs to soak up the booze and the late-night lifestyle.
I called in one lunchtime last week and enjoyed the spicy New Yorker burger (£5.95), which came stacked with peppers and onion and soured cream, and a big portion of chips.
Aside from a serious list of burgers, there are pub favourites such as fish and chips (£4.75), gammon and eggs (£4.45) and sausage and mash (£4.50), and for those who need a cholesterol kick start after a heavy night out, there’s the big Big Scary Breakfast (£4.95) of sausages, bacon, eggs, tomato, hash browns, mushrooms, beans and toast.
Sandwiches start at £3.25, jacket potatoes at £3.15, while further deals – two main courses for £6, beer and a burger for £4.25, beer and a curry for £4.95 – demonstrate the Dry Dock’s commitment to cheap and cheerful dining.
During the closure, Tom and his staff kept themselves busy, according to their press release: “We’ll also be training on the new cocktail list which we hope will attract a wider range of customers to the Dry Dock. We’ve tried a few of them already and they taste great.”
I’m assuming he means the cocktails. While some customers would probably welcome the chance to be tasted by the staff, if he tries that on me, I’m calling the police.
Name: The Dry Dock
Host: Tom Webster
Type: Lively student pub
Opening Hours: 11.30am-1am daily
Beers: Black Sheep (£2.60). Bombardier (£2.60), Timothy Taylor Landlord (£2.60), Carling (£2.50), Stella Artois (£2.90), Foster’s (£2.65), Becks (£2.80), Tennents Pilsner (£1.10), Heineken (£3), Guinness (£2.90), Strongbow (£2.85), Brothers Pear Cider, with a syrup (£3.20)
Wine: Reasonable choice
Food: Great selection of keenly-priced burgers, pastas, sandwiches, salads and steaks served from 11.30am-9pm daily.
Children: Not especially suitable
Disabled: Easy access to ground floor
Entertainment: Drinks promotions on Tues, team night Weds, live music Thurs, juke box, pool table, Sky Sports and ESPN Beer Garden: Large area above the pub
Parking: City centre car parks nearby
Telephone: 0113 3912658
Congratulations to the Sportsman in Huddersfield which has won the English Heritage Conservation Award in CAMRA’S National Pub Design Awards. Built in 1930 in a neo-Georgian style, the pub was bought in 2009 by new owners Mike Field and Sarah Barnes who have restored its fine stone exterior, repairing each of its 21 sash windows.
Beer of the Week
Innis and Gunn Triple Matured
This beer was out on the shelves at Tesco for Father’s Day, but the day came and went without anyone buying some for me. Typically, I ended up having to fork out for a couple myself.
It was money well spent. Innis and Gunn beers may often be a bit more expensive than some of their rivals on the shelves, but the name of the Edinburgh brewer on the label is pretty much a guarantor of quality and interest – and this potent 7.2 per cent ABV ale is no exception.
A number of brewers have returned to the idea of ageing beer in oak casks, notably those which have previously held spirits. But here it is the pure flavour of the wood – rather than whisky or sherry – which makes its way into the beer, lending a richness and a smoothness and a firm oakiness to the taste.
There is something of a full-bodied red wine to the aroma, but it’s that woodiness, backed by some caramel toffee, which asserts itself on the palate, eventually giving way to a long dry aftertaste, whose alcoholic zip buzzes around the senses.
Father’s Day or not, it’s well worth a try.